Expectation was in the air ahead of St Kilda’s clash with Collingwood in Round 17 of the 1931 season. With Bill Mohr in the goal square for the Saints and Gordon Coventry lining up at the other end for the Pies, hopes were high for a goal-scoring exhibition. Yet, as they made their way through the turnstiles, even the most optimistic of the 17,000 fans at the Junction Oval would have struggled to imagine just what was in store for them. By afternoon’s end, the team’s would have combined for 41 goals (24 of which kicked in a pulsating second half) and Mohr and Coventry sharing 22 between them.
While finals were already out of reach for the Charlie Hardy-coached Saints, a victory over the four-time defending premiers was seen as an opportunity to announce themselves as a team to watch in 1932. Their hopes of doing so rested heavily upon the shoulders of their 22-year-old full-forward Bill Mohr. Already on the way to his third club goalkicking award, a big bag was needed from the Wagga Wagga native if his team were to challenge Jock McHale’s ‘Machine Team’. With the Junction Oval drenched in spring sunshine on game day, and without a cloud in the sky, conditions couldn’t have been better for him to do just that.
As happy as Mohr would have been to feel the glorious warmth of a perfect September afternoon, so too would have Collingwood champion, Gordon Coventry. After topping the VFL goalkicking table in each of the five previous seasons, the 29-year-old from Diamond Creek’s 1931 season had been below his lofty expectations. Despite this, Hardy and the St Kilda backline would have spent much of the week leading into the game concerned about the future Hall of Famer improving his already impressive career record against the club.
The Saints had the better of the contest early but missed early chances to make their efforts count on the scoreboard. Coventry would kick the first goal of the game, which was followed soon after by teammate Fred Froude to give the visitors an early break. Mohr would kick the Saints first to close the gap before Jack Anderson gave them the lead. A second for Coventry sparked Mohr into action. In quick time the budding star marked and goaled three times to claim the initiative for his team. Coventry’s third was quickly answered by Billy Stevens but, a late goal to Frank Murphy meant, the home team would have to settle for a one-goal lead at quarter time.
They would extend this margin to eight points at the long break as the two teams traded goal for goal. Mohr was spectacular for the Saints, taking soaring marks and clever ground play he ran rings around his Collingwood defenders. Lacking the glamour of his opposite number, like the Ying to Mohr’s Yang, Coventry was the picture of ruthless efficiency. It was through his methodical accumulation that the visitors would turn the contest in the third quarter and his goal early in the final term helped them take a seven point lead.
With the crowd at fever pitch, Stuart King and Mohr would goal to give the home team the lead until Coventry answered with his 11th for the day. It would prove to be the last shot in the chamber for the premiers. Goals in quick time to Roy Bence, Anderson (2), and Mohr broke the back of the visitor’s challenge. The final siren was greeted by euphoric scenes as the Saints chaired Mohr off the ground after his match-winning 11 goal effort.
The victory, and the high-scoring nature of the contest – it was the highest aggregate game score to that point in time, was praised in the press following the match. The Age declared that “the 17,000 spectators were treated to a wonderful exhibition of the Australian game.” It was lauded too by the Football Record, “The Magpies also played excellently, but they could not hope to overcome the superlative exhibition of football given by the, Saints.” The Australasian declared it a “Perfect Day.”
However, this was not a unanimous view of the match. St Kilda great Dave McNamara was less than impressed by his old team’s demolition job. “Just fancy—41 goals- in a match. It is ludicrous. The game may ‘have been a fine one to watch, but the high scoring makes it look rather foolish,” he told The Sporting Globe. “It is a pity to see this game of ours being spoilt by the present ridiculous rules,” Much like many modern commentators McNamara was of the view that the game and its players, were better in his day. “I wish I was at my prime today with the present rules in vogue. I guarantee that if Gordon Coventry and other forwards can kick ten, eleven, and, twelve goals in a match, well I think that Dick Lee, Sellars, Freake, Vin Gardiner, myself, and other forwards would score the goals just as easily as they do.”